RSS Feeds

Using multiple computers creates a desire to centralize work flows and data. I do not and will not use online cloud services.

One frustration with many, if not most RSS feed readers is they are user-centric and designed to store related files in the user’s $HOME.

I am not a news junkie and do not save feeds. After reading, when I close a feed app I want all feeds deleted. I prefer to open feed links in a web browser in the background. I like queuing all stories in the browser for a session reading.

I prefer to use the keyboard to browse through the headlines. I want to read at least the first paragraph. I do not want web pages downloaded unless I open the respective link in the web browser. While I group feeds into folders, grouping is not critical because I prefer to browse all new feeds collectively and sorted with the oldest feed first.

Features such as sharing feeds are useless to me.

While interval fetching is nice, I do not need this feature. To avoid work distractions I limit my feed readings to general times of the day, usually at breakfast and then sometime later in the day. That means I manually check for new feeds.

In my KDE 3 and TDE days I used Akregator. For a long time since I had been using QuiteRSS. To avoid the user-centric $HOME storage problem I used sym links from $HOME to a central location. When within my house normally I connect to a public share on my office system where I store the QuiteRSS files. Using sym links in $HOME allows me to fool the program with respect to file locations.

While QuiteRSS does most of what I want, the program has its quirks. I have QuiteRSS configured with each closing to delete the feeds I read. When closing, QuiteRSS displays a “Saving data” popup notifier. While the popup is mildly annoying and unnecessary, often the full QuiteRSS window reappears, which is the really annoying part. When closing and using the public network share, my laptop becomes almost unusable for those few moments, almost like a system freeze. When I updated from version 0.17.7 to 0.18.2 the updated version introduced a frustrating bug of not showing the headlines. They just plain disappeared. I had to restart QuiteRSS three times to make the headlines viewable. Reverting to 0.17.7 resolved that problem. This happened in all of the distros I use.

For some reason QuiteRSS is slow fetching feeds, almost stalling with certain feeds.

I use multiple computers and multiple user accounts. Considering that many people today use multiple devices and are mobile, I am puzzled why RSS app developers do not support the simple option of defining storage locations rather than default to $HOME.

I never really liked my approach of sym links. Creating sym links for each user account is straightforward but clunky. I want a centralized RSS feed system accessible from any computer by any user account.

I looked at Liferea. Same $HOME user-centric design. While importing feeds from QuiteRSS through an OPML file is easy, Liferea does not support privacy options. Noticeable is not having a way to disable cookies. I have no idea why cookies are needed or desired with RSS feeds. The only way to stop the cookies is convert the cookies.txt file into a directory. The lack of privacy options moved me to continue looking.

I considered RSSOwl but moved on when I saw the app was built on Java, that the FAQ discusses memory issues, and the app can’t use Firefox as an external browser because of XULRunner requirements.

An RSS feed server is one way to centralize RSS data and use a web browser. I looked a some candidates such as Tiny Tiny RSS, FreshRSS, and Owncloud News. While the geek aspect might appeal to some, I prefer simplicity. Despite the complexity I seriously considered this option because of the centralization. Before I traveled this road I decided to revisit browser addons, something I had not done in a long time.

As I use Firefox, a feed reader addon seems sane.

Firefox Live Bookmarks is an anemic solution at best. A bug I discovered with Live Bookmarks is each time I perused the Live Bookmarks, the sort order would be reversed from the previous session.

The Brief addon is designed around Live Bookmarks, which means living with the peculiar sort order bug. Brief supports fetching new feeds at a configured interval, but the feature works only while the Brief tab remains open. This is not a problem as I prefer to update feeds manually. Like QuiteRSS, Brief is user-centric and stores all data in the user’s Firefox profile directory.

The Bamboo addon presents a different design than Brief, what some people would call more modern. I found no respective Firefox toolbar icon, only a Tools menu option. Importing an OPML file is easy. Keyboard shortcuts worked okay for me: Right Arrow to scroll through the headlines, Enter to view the article, and Enter again to open the feed in a background tab. Bamboo supports storing data in a location other than $HOME. I could not figure out how to enlarge the small font sizes. I could not figure out how to delete read feeds or how Bamboo ages feeds. Launching Bamboo always opens in a new tab rather than use the existing open blank tab.

MicroRSS provides a toolbar icon but has the same oddball quirk with opening in a new tab rather than use the existing open blank tab. I found no way to import from an OPML file. I was not going to manually recreate several dozen feeds. There is no useful documentation.

NewsFox likewise ignores an existing blank tab. This behavior makes no sense and wastes a tab. The tab layout is similar to QuiteRSS with three panes. I long have preferred the three pane design going back to Akregator with KDE 3 and TDE. Like QuiteRSS, the article text pane must receive the focus to use keyboard shortcuts that concurrently control both the article and feed panes. Default font sizes are too small. I do not understand developers who think small fonts are enjoyable. The NoSquint addon does not help with NewsFox. The only solution I found is to expand the xpi container and then edit three css files.

NewsFox is slow to respond to mouse clicks while feeds are updating, almost freezing, but the trick actually is needing to click twice. I do not know why this bug exists. While NewsFox supports a storage location other than the Firefox profile, the dialog option seemed broken. I got the option to work by closing NewsFox and then manually moving files to my desired public location.

There is support to automatically delete feeds when closing. The trick is to preserve unread feeds while setting the aging factor to zero days. Feed pane columns are configurable once discovering the little icon in the far right of the column headings. Configuring the layout of the feed pane is exactly the same as QuiteRSS.

While I use Tab Mix Plus and enjoy an Open in Background Tab context menu option, strangely NewsFox does not default to opening tabs in the background. Many people open RSS feed links in the background. Why this is not the default or at least configurable in NewsFox is a mystery.

I noticed a bug with configuring NewsFox options, which might explain my previous inability to configure a central storage location. Only one configuration option can be changed at a time. Browsing the web seems to confirm the bug.

Another bug seems to be refetching old feeds from several days or weeks previous.

NewsFox updates feeds much faster than QuiteRSS and there is no stalling.

Using a central storage location resolves my desire for centralization and avoids any need for sym links. Setting the aging factor to zero days resolves my desire not to save feeds after reading. With centrally stored files I can fetch RSS feeds with any computer and any user account.

My NewsFox wish list?

  • Default to opening feed links in background tabs.
  • Launch NewsFox in an existing empty tab.
  • GUI controls for adjusting font sizes in all panes.
  • Fix the click twice bug.

Evaluating these apps and addons took several days. Mostly I felt frustrated by the experience. At the moment I am using NewsFox and am reasonably content.

I am not enthused about the future of NewsFox based on a recent announcement from the developers and the Mozilla plans for Firefox addons. Should NewsFox support disappear then I will need to look at a central RSS server or return to QuiteRSS.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: Firefox, General

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